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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 36, New Delhi, August 27, 2016

Regarding Independence Day

Sunday 28 August 2016, by Eduardo Faleiro

On August 15, we celebrate the Independence Day. On this day, in 1947, India put an end to colonial rule and affirmed itself as a sovereign and democratic nation.

The colonial rule destroyed the Indian economy and greatly impoverished the people of India. By all accounts, India was a prosperous nation at the onset of Western colonialism. An estimate by the Cambridge historian, Angus Wilson, reveals that in 1700, India’s share of the world income was 22.6 per cent comparable to the entire income of Europe which was then at 23.3 per cent. By 1952, however, India’s share fell to 2.3 per cent of the world income.

Today, India is among the fastest growing economies in the world. There has been significant growth in life expectancy, literacy and food security though there are obvious deficiencies in all these sectors. According to the International Monetary Fund, the Indian economy has the potential to become the world’s third largest economy by the next decade. The Indian economy is the “bright spot” in the global landscape, it asserts.

The freedom struggle was not just for political freedom. It was not merely to dislodge foreign rulers and install our own. It was also for social and economic change and for a life of peace and dignity to all citizens. Whilst India witnesses rapid economic growth, there are still vast numbers of people in the country who face grave problems of illiteracy, disease and poverty. What is required is greater attention to inclusive development that benefits significantly all sections of the population.

The framework for responsible citizenship and national regeneration has been laid down in the Indian Constitution in three parts. Part III of the Constitution deals with the Fundamental Rights, Part IV with the Directive Principles of State Policy and part IVA with the Fundamental Duties. Fundamental Rights are basic human rights which the State recognises and it provides for their enforcement. We are all equally human, the world is one family and all human rights are for all. The nature and extent of State responsibility for the protection of human rights in India was indicated by the National Human Rights Commission in the case of the Gujarat riots of 2002. It said: “It is the primary and inescapable responsibility of the State to protect the right to life, liberty, equality and dignity of all those who constitute it. It is also the responsibility of the State to ensure that such rights are not violated either through overt acts or through abetment or negligence.” The Directives Principles of State Policy are guidelines to be kept in mind by the government whilst framing laws and policies. These guidelines include free and compulsory education to all children below the age of 14 years and provision of adequate means of livelihood to all.

The Fundamental Duties are moral obligations of all citizens and are specifically intended to promote responsible citizenship and national unity and harmony. We often harp on our rights but neglect and may even be unaware of our duties. Mahatma Gandhi remarked: “I learnt from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved come from duty well done.”

The Constitution lists ten Fundamental Duties. Each has a distinct role and importance in our polity. One of the fundamental duties is “to provide harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood among all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities”

Parliament has sought unanimously a political solution to the present Kashmir conflict and has urged the government to bring peace to the Kashmir Valley. Dr Karan Singh, son of the last Maharaja of Kashmir who signed the Instrument of Accession, stated in the Rajya Sabha that Jammu and Kashmir had acceded to the Union of India on three subjects, defence, communications and foreign affairs, but unlike other princely States it did not merge with India. The relationship of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of India is governed by Article 370 of the Constitution of India and by its own State Constitution, he said. The Kashmir Valley has now been under continuous curfew for more than 30 days and this has paralysed the adminis-tration, shut down educational institutions and led to near zero attendance at government offices. More than 55 people have been killed and thousands injured in this month long unrest.

We, the people of India, must rise above our religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity and together deal with the multifarious tasks that confront us today.

The author, now based in Goa, is a former Union Minister.